Archive for April, 2012

This Is Why We Need The Twilight Zone

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2012 by bradellison

Well, there are many, many reasons why we should be thankful for Mr. Sirling’s magnum opus, but the thing on my mind now is the fact that if we were still making new episodes of the Zone, maybe we wouldn’t have so many mediocre horror movies that play out like Twilight Zone episodes filled out to triple- or quadruple-length with filler. The breath-taking boring, preachy, stupid and generally terrible Sublime remains my go-to example for how awful these things can get, but a lot of the ones I’ve seen are more in the mediocre category, including the one I watched last night. Gentle readers, I give you Dead End.

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We present for your consideration the Harrington family, a seemingly ordinary family of utterly unlikeable middle-class white people on their way to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Little do they know that their shortcut through the woods is about to take them neck deep into…

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This picture seems to have been pretty well reviewed by both mainstream critics and more hardcore horror fans, and I am not quite sure why. It would have been a fine 25-minute TV episode although I still might have gotten sick of the characters and almost certainly would have guessed the twist, (especially seeing as how The Twilight Zone used pretty much the same twist more than once already), but I spent more than triple that time sitting through this movie.

To its credit, that time wasn’t completely wasted. This was no Sublime. There were some genuinely creepy moments the film can take credit for, some others that exploit our natural fear of being lost in the woods at night, and a couple more moments that would have been creepy had they actually been able to put together a full mutilated corpse instead of blatantly cheating with camera angles. Shots of people staring at the camera talking about how gruesome what they’re looking at is can only go so far. Further adding to the movie’s sins, everybody’s overacting in a manner that might charitable be described as operatic, and they’re bringing this scenery-chewing to bear in service of depicting a bunch of assholes. Then there’s the fact that the twist/explanation for all the spooky shenanigans is an outright cliché, a chestnut on par with “it was all just a dream (or was it?), ” so I spent most of the movie waiting for them to acknowledge what I already knew and hoping in vain that a new spin might be put on it. No such luck. Instead we get inexplicable stupid decision (when they stop at the spooky cabin to see if there’s a phone they could use to call for help for the spooky woman in white they met hitchhiking, teenage son decides it’s an ideal time to go off into the spooky woods alone so he can pin a centerfold to a tree and rub one out) after inexplicable stupid decision (teenage later, after the first member of the party has been kidnapped and grotesquely murdered and another has gone catatonic, goes off into the woods to smoke a joint). I say “grotesquely murdered” there, but I’m having to take the characters’ word for it since I saw the body. I’m all for subtle, low-key horror, but if you can only afford to make a severed ear instead of a whole mutilated dead person, maybe fix your script so that ear’s all they find. The final cherry on top of this crap sundae is one of the stupidest epilogues I’ve seen in recent memory. Spoiler alert, but turns out Death has an awful, awful haircut.

To sum up, you can skip this one, but it does join eating paint chips, listening to dial-up modem noises and punching yourself in the breadbasket in the pantheon of things that are better than watching Sublime.

Look At All This Crap

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2012 by bradellison

The grammatical rule about never splitting an infinitive is, of course, total and complete bullshit, foisted upon us by old dead men who decided English needed to be classed up with Latin rules.  But this is the language of Chaucer, Wycliffe, Shakespeare, Milton, Jefferson, Twain, Hemingway and Steinbeck, and it does not need classing up.  Here’s the 20th century’s greatest crime novelist laying down the law on the subject.

Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor has an awesome job, clearly, but he’s also got an awesome hobby, and a collection that defies description.

I love monsters, and I love the alphabet, so this Tumblr is right up my alley.

I’m not going to try explaining to anyone why this bootleg Batman musical exists, but it’s amazing enough to explain itself, and it’s on Youtube.

And if you haven’t yet seen it, the Village Voice has laid down an excellent and well-documented chronicle of Mitt Romney’s history of being a job-destroying company-plundering robber baron in exactly the mold of the dickheads who drove this country over a cliff back in ’29.

And now here’s 24 straight hours of the noise the Enterprise-D‘s engines make:

So I Lately Finished Reading Savage Season

Posted in Words with tags , , on April 25, 2012 by bradellison

Joe R. Lansdale keeps getting described as Texas’ answer to Stephen King, and both men seem to pull from some of the same wells of influence, chiefly old comic books and monster movies and such.  But fact of the matter is, Joe Lansdale outstrips King by a couple of country miles when it comes to outright no-fooling weirdness.  And King fans will know that’s saying something, because the man from Maine once wrote a book where a bunch of thirteen-year-olds manage to beat a Lovecraftian clown demon by having a gang-bang in a sewer.  But hell, Lansdale wrote a story about Godzilla trying to get clean of his city-wrecking addiction through a twelve-step program, and another about an old man who believes he’s Elvis Presley teaming up with an old man who believes he’s JFK to stop a mummy who’s been eating the souls of their fellow nursing home residents, and another about Huck Finn and Jim venturing out to a magic island where Brer Fox had taken to worshipping Cthulhu, and only a well-timed atomic bomb managed to prevent that anthropomorphic fox from unleashing unholy hell by opening the way for the Outer Gods to come back into this world.  I’ve heard it from the man’s own lips that for a chunk of his career his writing was fueled by the apparently hallucinogenic effects of eating popcorn cooked with lard while watching B movies, which apparently causes strange and unwholesome dreams.  Doesn’t take much reading of his work to believe it’s true.

Hard to help getting weird when you’re rooted in that East Texas soil where Lansdale hails from, though.  I’ve been through that country, and it’s got all those thick woods and marshy bottoms and far, far too many water snakes for me to tolerate.  I tend to regard East Texas as the buffer zone that creates a comfortable distance between me and the festering swamps of Louisiana.  Lansdale calls it home, though, and it’s the setting for much of his work, and I can’t argue any with success.

I wanted to lead off with talk of Lansdale’s weirdness in order to set up the proposition that his Hap and Leonard series of crime novels is, from my reading of his oeuvre, probably the most mainstream stuff he’s got on the market.  It’s all in East Texas, and reflects Lansdale’s passion for martial arts and drive-in theaters and dogs, and his inimitable sense of humor, but it’s grounded and wrapped round a thrilling yarn about guns and stolen money and women you ought not trust, in fine hardboiled style, and done in a straightforward enough manner that I can imagine my grandmother reading it, which sets it well apart from much of the man’s output.  Reading it, it struck me first off that it was an outrage that this hadn’t been turned into a TV series, especially with Justified doing so well.

There’s a few things you absolutely need for a good crime novel, especially one that you’d like to have sell well and bring forth sequels.  First and foremost, I reckon, is the possession of an eye for detail and an ear for language.  Dashiell Hammett, for instance, honed both to razors in his time as a private detective, so that any one of his books you happen to read aloud to a police sketch artist will produce some first-rate wanted posters.  Raymond Chandler maybe was a hair less precise, but he painted in some more vibrant colors and made sure you could feel the truth of every place and person he wrote, feel it deep inside your gut.  Most crime authors don’t have it quite so much, which is why I find a lot of the time reading a paperback thriller seems a lot like chewing cardboard, and you’re better off just waiting for the movie starring Ashley Judd to show up on cable.

Lansdale has it.  He’s got an ear for dialect, in both dialogue and narration, that puts me in mind of old Mister Twain as much as anyone else.  Of course, making that comparison came easy when I reflected on the fact that this here was a story of a couple of friends, one white and one black, entering a river and getting into a whole heap of trouble.

Our heroes don’t really have that much in common with Huck and Jim, though, aside from them being a seemingly mismatched pair of outsiders.  They’re a study in opposites right down the line.  Hap’s white, Leonard’s black.  Leonard’s gay, Hap’s a fool for women.  Hap spent eighteen months in Leavenworth for refusing to go to Vietnam, while Leonard went and picked up some medals and memories he doesn’t talk about.  Leonard is level-headed, and Hap goes and gets them both balls-deep in trouble when he really, really should have known better.  The odd couple routine is, of course, a classic of the genre going back to when E. A. Poe invented it, or when Doyle reworked Poe’s characters into more iconic shapes and sort of invented the modern franchise.  Jonathan Kellerman’s gotten a lot of mileage out of the gay guy/straight guy crimefighting duo over the years, in particular.  But while it’s an old tune, it’s particularly well-played here.  Partly because these guys aren’t a crime-fighting team of any sort, they’re just a couple of middle-aged blue collar Texans getting by in life, but mainly because of how lived-in their friendship feels.  Lansdale pulls off the neat sleight-of-hand trick of selling on the idea that these are just two real people who happen to get caught up in a bad mess, rather than a duo created specifically to star in this adventure and several more to follow.

Then there’s the way the plot roots itself deep into the nature of time and the place the characters are living in, it being a tale of faded middle-aged radicals trying to resurrect their glories days from the sixties with a lost cache of heisted money on a river-bottom.  It’s also deep-rooted into the characters themselves, principally Hap, who’s the one telling this tale.  Stolen cash and double crosses aside, this here is mostly a story about a man getting dragged back to confront his own history, both metaphorically (Hap’s a cynical ex-activist who finds himself stuck in a small house with a bunch of guys who haven’t let go of the ideological fervor they maintained during the Vietnam years) and literally (he’s brought into this business, and brings Leonard into it against the latter’s better judgement, because the maguffin is located somewhere around the places he knew as a boy).

With all this talk of character and theme and whatnot, let’s not lose sight of the red meat that a good hardboiled crime yarn needs.  Guns get pointed every which way, Chekhov’s Dog is guaranteed to bite, there’s some brutal shovel work, and at least one fierce kick to the head.  It’s served up lean, and served up mean, and does not disappoint.

I Saw the Saints With Their Toys

Posted in Music, Stuff I think is cool with tags , , on April 22, 2012 by bradellison

I don’t have anything to say about this, no explanations or analysis or anything.  This is what’s up:

This is what some people might unthinkingly describe as the “real” version:

The Riddle of the Work Beyond the Work Part Two: The Rest of the Iceberg

Posted in Words on April 21, 2012 by bradellison

In a perfect world, I’d be left alone in my office in the tower of a lofty gothic mansion in the Pacific Northwest to write all day, taking breaks now and then to gaze out upon the majestic forests to the east or the mighty ocean to the west, or just to play Red Dead Redemption some.  Turns out this is not a perfect world, and the proof is that I do not have a gothic mansion in the Pacific Northwest.  I don’t have my own office, either, and I’m not playing Red Dead Redemption right now.  Additionally, it turns out I can’t get away with writing and nothing else.

It’s hard sometimes, putting words on the page again and again and again, but I can do it.  I feel satisfied doing it.  As I burn it into permanent habit, it’ll continue to become more and more a part of my being, I suppose.  The same goes for the re-writing, the editing, the research, and all of that business of refining the crude ore into readable matter.

Where it gets harder, of course, is keeping at that while working a real job, because bills need to be paid.  With the commute and the lunch hour I spend watching the Daily Show at my desk, that’s about nine hours and a half lost to drudgery.  Home from work, putting in more hours on a second job is a hard sell.

But that’s just the curse of the wannabe trying to break into the game.  Rocky Balboa had to keep up his boxing while spending all day muscling guys with overdue payments, and eventually he was able to buy his kid a pet robot.  That’s the dream we’re all working towards, right?  To one day be able to provide our children with real robots?  I can do this, I can make that happen.

Except there’s no guarantee that the day job is ever going to go away.  It’s hard to make a living in this business.  Glen Cook stuck with his job on a GM assembly line throughout a writing career that saw him putting out 2-3 books a year at times.

Then there’s the fact that, inexplicably, putting together a polished manuscript isn’t immediately rewarded with a parade or an angelic choir or a paycheck or anything.  Someone has to want the thing you’ve written, they have to know they want it, and they need to pay for it.

That means selling yourself.  Selling your work,at least, but isn’t the dream to be in a position where editors are calling you up instead of the other way around?  The job is to sell the work, and do it well enough that the customer keeps your name in mind for next time.  Time was, Stephen King was a teacher mailing manuscripts off to a wide assortment of porno mag publishers, but now publishers can feel honored and blessed if he deigns to write a novel for them.  The transition from one state to another is clearly a lot of work, and as near as I’ve been able to tell so far it’s weird work, unpredictable, partially dependent on luck, entirely dependent on being able to hook people on yourself.

That’s really the part that’s freaking me out at this point.  My current plan is to skip the middleman and self-publish, but that just means that instead of selling myself to one editor, I’m selling to a lot of readers.

And that is the riddle of the work beyond the work.  The job you have to be good at in order to work at your desired job.  It’s some weird stuff.

The Riddle of the Work Beyond the Work Part One: In Which I Bore Everyone To Pieces By Talking About Myself

Posted in Words on April 20, 2012 by bradellison

I’ve been playing at this writing business for a while now, going back as near as I can figure about twenty years.  As a wee boy I tried writing stories in the vein of Howard Pyle and Ray Bradbury, with results questionable at best.  I at one point conceptualized a Batman theatrical production I would write, direct and star in, but that fell through.  As I recall, I was about seven.  At approximately the age of nine, I tried my hand at comic books, crudely drawn with a ballpoint pen and featuring such heroes as the Spider Boy (who spat webbing), Anonymous Man (could fly and had guns) and my personal favorite Bandit (who was able to open interdimensional portals and rifts of any size and shape, including one that was a vast roiling ocean of raw burning energy that he could unleash).  In my teenage years I got into fan fiction, mainly focused on Batman, Highlander, and the Crow.  I wrote a Batman/Nightwing story that won an award on a Nightwing fansite, once.  Still feel kind of proud of that, honestly.  I also tried laying down some poetry around this time, pretty much all of which was absolutely terrible.  I can at least take solace in the fact that the Matrix fan fiction one of my peers had me review for feedback made my stuff look like Hemingway’s Batman fanfic, and that the brief play I wrote for Drama II was conceptually interesting, if nothing else.

I kept of the fan fiction in college, and accumulated several aborted story attempts, fragments and ideas for original stuff that never came together because I couldn’t finish anything, it seemed like.  No discipline, no patience, no understanding of how to structure, no drive to get to the end.  But I was getting better.  My work was getting some polish to it, and I was getting closer to closing the deal.

The summer after my first year of college, I was living with my grandparents, working in a cement plant (mainly jackhammering and shoveling calcified drifts of dust), and I finished my first story.  Wrote it out long-hand in a little notebook, nifty little Twilight Zone yarn about a man who can’t get dead people to stop calling him.  The oldest finished piece of fiction in my portfolio, and I think with some dusting off it’ll be fit for publication later this year.

I managed to finish a couple of other stories around this time.  A couple more supernatural yarns that I can stand to read without too much shame.  I also turned my hand to writing for the stage, since Theater was my minor.  I wrote a few comedy sketches, and I also threw together a couple of short one-act Mystery plays, only one of which was ever performed.  I did Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, a recounting of the Passion from the perspective of the Centurion, and a bit about the Apostles in the time before they hear about hte Resurrection.  It was all-right stuff.

After college I spent a year or two watching movies, reading books, and trying to get my shit together.  A friend got me to write a couple of comic book scripts, then move down to Austin to see about getting them drawn.  I’ve written a few more, knocked out a few more stories, and here we are.

I’m laying all this out here mostly to make a point to myself.  From the time I knew how to read and write, there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do.  This is the one ambition I’ve never lost sight of, the one passion I’ve never abandoned.  Remembering that, keeping it at the forefront of my mind, serves to remind me that I need to be serious about it.  I’ve wasted too much time to waste any more, accumulated too many useless tag ends and scraps in my “Works In Progress” folder and not enough in my “Completed” folder.  I’m laying it out here so I’ll remember the progress I’ve made, and the direction I need to be moving in.

This is all stuff I need to remind myself of because, as much as I love the business of putting words on the page, I’ve become increasingly aware of what a large iceberg the writing itself is the tip of.

More Thrilling Links As I Clear Out My Browser Tabs

Posted in Comics, Stuff I think is cool with tags , , , on April 19, 2012 by bradellison

My bad habit is keeping tabs open on interesting content until I can find someone to share it with.  I’m doing this now both to let my handful of readers know what’s awesome, and to keep Chrome from crashing under the weight of things.

Jack Kirby is one of the greatest and most important artists of the 20th century.  That is not hyperbole.  The raw force of that man’s imagination, as captured in the lines he put on paper, shaped a medium and several genres, influenced and inspired generations, and has been utilized to produce billions of dollars of profit for the company that owns the rights to the characters he created, thanks to the comic book industry’s proud history of screwing artists.  Whether he was fighting in World War II, inventing the romance comic, creating 90% of Marvel’s most compelling and popular characters, or preparing to get into a bare-knuckle brawl with a bunch of American Nazis who objected to Captain America breaking Hitler’s jaw, everything the King did was awesome.  But this article from the LA Times has gotten me to thinking of him as a father as well as an artist.  It’s a fantastic look at what it was like to be Jack Kirby’s son, and I’ve had it open in my browser for weeks because I keep rereading it.

Soy Venganza!

Timothy Lim’s artwork just makes me happy.  Especially the Calvin & Hobbes-inspired Spider-man and Venom stuff.

Courtesy of 4thletter, we have this glorious vision of what a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fighting game could be!  Words can’t express how much I want this to be real.

I need this shirt.  Real Talk.

Chris Sims, world’s foremost Batmanologist and guy who having turned this writing on the internet thing into a living is a hero of mine, made this a while ago as part of his brilliant Many Emotions of Batman series, and it still makes me laugh.

And now here’s Jack Johnson beating the shit out of the Great White Hope to play us out: